I was veering into the exit to Harbor Avenue a couple weeks ago, listening to a segment on NPR about Washington apple harvest festivals. The host described a Whidbey Island festival called Apple Day and Mutt Strut, where people gathered to taste apples and freshly pressed cider, and dressed their dogs in costume for a contest.
The festivities were next to the Langley Farmer’s Market, which stood adjacent to a nursery a few miles from where we were staying at the Boatyard Inn. They were a casual community affair, and despite not getting a costume for our puppy Nora, she was awarded “Best Trick” when I got her to lay on her back for a treat.
We returned to the main drag and went inside a winery called Ott & Murphy. Heavy rains outside gave me a sense of coziness sitting indoors I have nary felt since my childhood. A flight of wines, a cheese terrine, a salumi platter, and a bottle of Grenache later, we encountered a flavor that was a gateway into our next stop on Whidbey Island. It came in the form of loganberry liqueur drizzled on a Chocolate Espresso Tart, tasting like thin, silky syrup.
“It’s from Whidbey Island Distillery,” the winery owner David Ott said in his gentle voice with a mild raspiness. “It’s nearby, and I think they’re just releasing a raspberry liqueur too.”
We nearly missed our turn into the Heising household the next day, where Whidbey Island Distillery co-owner Steven invited the three of us inside to see his copper still named “Bubbling Betty.” It was a project he and his wife Beverly had undertaken as their retirement, making liqueur out of surplus wine from local wineries, then adding local loganberry juice and raspberry juice to produce their two current offerings.
Bottles of whiskey lined the table by the door. “Most of those are just to see the color behind our labels,” Steven remarked. “We’re hoping to produce our own whiskey soon.”
“Have you thought of producing grappa?” I asked. “Since you’re dabbling in brandy already…”
“We’ve thought about it, but not everyone has a taste for grappa, plus you need to add sugar when you make grappa, which would mean we would have to buy more, rather than use products that would otherwise be wasted. We’re trying to make something as natural as possible.”
While tasting their spirits, Beverly eyed Nora and asked if we had been to Spoiled Dog Winery, just up the road. “You can bring your dog in there,” she said, smiling.
With two bottles of liqueur, some infused chocolates, and a couple branded shot glasses given as gifts for our anniversary, we set off for the winery before heading back to the ferry. Spoiled Dog Winery was up a hill, its tasting room behind a modestly sized field of Pinot Noir vines. While we tasted their wines, Nora played with their elderly Australian Shephard named Blue. We tied a red scarf from the winery around her neck as a memento for our weekend of relief from the chaotic election season.
“I love how this town is pretty much all small businesses,” Carla said as we were nearing the ferry. The statement epitomized Whidbey Island to me. There had not been a Subway, Pizza Hut, or even my beloved employer Starbucks in sight. Our only distractions came in the form of our eyes fixed on our puppy and the serene island views, and our taste buds that were seduced by various libations of comfort. As with any fulfilling trip, the worst part is knowing I can no longer say I have been there and done that, but must instead long to return once Whidbey Island Distillery releases their whiskey.